Every once in a while (and by that, I mean, on a fairly regular basis), I stumble across Yet Another Rant About Welfare by people who know so painfully little about it that I feel a vague ache in my chest that I've come to realize is actually the seeds of homicidal rage. The political blogs that do it I pretty much blow off--I know they're making shit up for political gain. They know they're making shit up for political gain. So whatever.
The other ones? I can still blow it off, but I am in a transitional computer place in my life.
It's just--it's so hard for people who haven't worked the cases or been the recipients to get how hideously complex it can be because it looks easy from the outside. It does, because federal law requires timelines on how long you have to approve/deny a case, so when everything is running smoothly, it does look like it's walk-in, walk-out, anyone can do it. I didn't work every kind of case imaginable when I was a caseworker, but I saw, caseread, or heard about pretty much all of them. It's hard, from both sides. Period.
And then there's the rants about those that don't deserve it etc.
It's--here's the thing. I don't care.
Burnout at my former job in large cities is high both because of the sheer workload (when I changed jobs, I was running sixteen a day not including the cases that didn't require interviews; now some cities are doing three to four interviews an hour). And you get all of them--those your judgement says should, that shouldn't, that can't, that can and don't, and everything in between. And in the end, I stopped caring about the reasons because they didn't matter.
They're there, and it was more than that my job description didn't include sitting judgment, because the fact of the matter is, left to myself, I'd give it to anyone who came through the door. That's the only way that after all that time, I could be sure everyone who needed it got it. I wouldn't care if Bill Gates wandered in to apply--I'd approve, hand over his card, and wave him goodbye with a smile as long as the woman whose disability check was a dollar over the limit got it too. I knew the equations backward and forward that decide eligibility (and it's insane, I still think the logic behind them is no logic at all), and I know, unlike half the people who start those fucking rants, how many people we turn down, cut benefits, have to say "no" when we can stare at their application and wonder if we can say no and not hate ourselves.
And we can't.
I didn't care. I didn't care if my client had ten kids by ten dads and was pregnant again and had never worked (and the cliche of that is so painfully hilarious--seriously, where are you getting this shit? I can give estimated numbers on that one, and it's below one percent of my total number of interviews, and I averaged about seventy to one hundred interviews a week minimum for eighteen months, not including the Katrina clients), I didn't care if they were lying about their husband being in the house and working because they'd get a benefit cut; I didn't look for reasons to say no. I hated when I had to say no. Because the thing is--
The thing is, few people that were sane, who had any other option at all would go through this. Not the application process, the interview process, the verification process, the waiting for it to go through, and the five billion things that can go wrong, from computer failure to application failure to stolen SSN numbers that cause false reports, to stalking ex-significant others to the caseworker getting sick for two weeks and the workload so high their cases end up being late, late, and so very late.
Not the sheer nightmare of applying for TANF that I can't even talk about without twitching, the impossible restrictions and requirements, the catch-22s that are built into the system. Not the Medicaid that is great except for all the ways that the government has made it such a song and dance to get a simple doctor's appointment to the horrific realization your client is on chemo and her case is being denied and there's not a fucking thing you can do to help her but hope that the computer system fails that month and she is accidentally awarded another month.
I used to argue with my boss about that--two, three bosses back--about TANF and the ridiculous rules and how people do use it to get farther and how he'd smile and say that was the exception. And I'd get frustrated because I didn't really have an answer to that one--he'd know. He had a billion years of tenure.
Reading the latest rant, I realized I'd given the wrong answer.
When he said it was an exception, I should have answered, we're not here for the exceptions, not mostly, not completely, not only. The exceptions find a way--they do, they always do, they burn themselves out, but they find a way to get through and survive and prosper, that's why they're exceptions and I'm glad to be a part of their journey, to be the one privileged to help them. But the people we're here for are the ones that are the rule; the ones that can't be that, won't be, for whatever reason, from abuse so grinding they were lost before they came to me and might be lost until the day they die, from apathy, from training, from disposition, from a lifetime I haven't lived and God willing I never will.
Caseworkers--we bitch and rant to each other, to our families, to our friends, throw our fits about the people, the job, the atmosphere, the weather, but here's the thing; most of us didn't fall into the job because we found the job in the local newspaper.
We found it when we went to apply for benefits, and on the shelf by the door, there was a stack of job applications and dozen copies of job openings with the state.
The caseworker looked at us thoughtfully and glanced at our food stamp application. They might ask if we finished high school or have our GED. They make some notes. They get up and wander over nad pick up an application and a copy of the job opening. They tell us, I was looking at your job history. You have a lot of experience with *something*. Ever thought of being a caseworker?
That's not how it happened for me. But that's how it happened for a lot of us. And when we bitch, and argue, and sometimes get tired and angry, we also almost never say, this shouldn't be here. We rarely say, there should be more restrictions. We don't say, God, I wish this entire system would just stop. We don't ever say welfare is pointless. We'll slog through ten, twenty, fifty applications a day if we have to, and when we go home, what we remember is this: there was someone, and they needed us, and we said no.
So from me, to the next person who bitches about welfare and trots out mythical statistics: Shut. Up. I'd say fuck you, but then I'd have to tell you how to apply for pregnancy Medicaid in case your birth control fails, your IUD doesn't work, or the asshole doesn't use a condom, and you realize that your job's medical insurance doesn't cover pregnancy and the guy wanders off for greener pastures. Later, you realize they don't offer paid maternity leave and hey, you got the lottery of being the one in however many with the tragically horrific case of morning sickness that gets your boss on your case about the amount of time you spend throwing up in teh bathroom. Or if it turns high-risk and you're on bedrest and IVs for four months.
Not that that ever happens. That is obviously a myth perpetuated by the liberal left, the communists, or maybe the Taliban; who is it this week, anyway?
(belated reaction to one of the comments here.)